The last word in the Christian scriptures, “all,” is short but says a lot about religious pluralism, Samford University students learned from Biblical scholar Dr. Brad R. Braxton during a lecture at the school Thursday, Sept. 29.
The Christian Bible begins with creation in Genesis, and ends with inclusion, he said, referencing Revelation 22:21 which states, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.”
“’All’ is such a hope-filled word, an elastic word, a boundary-breaking word,” said Braxton, noting that in English or Greek, “all” or “pas,” has three letters. And in those three letters there is plenty of room for the three Abrahamic religions---Islam, Judaism and Christianity---and all other religions as well.
Braxton, distinguished visiting scholar at McCormick Theological Seminary, spoke as Samford’s 2011 Holley-Hull lecturer. He is an ordained Baptist minister, author and a member of a scholarly team that recently created an online ecumenical African American Lectionary.
Braxton, who holds a Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Emory University, helped his Reid Chapel audience understand what Revelation 22 says about religious pluralism by focusing on three verses.
Verse 14, he said, stipulates that future access to the tree of life connects to present responsibility.
“Participation in God’s future will be predicated upon appropriate behavior in the present,” said Braxton, cautioning against dehumanizing forces such as religious and racial bigotry, gender-based chauvinism and public policies that exploit economically vulnerable people while allowing corporate greed to go unchecked.
Verse 15, with is derogatory language and harsh tone is a regrettable example of defamation and deformation that is filled with religiously-inspired venom.
“The challenge for faith communities is to learn how to articulate passionately the central concerns of our religious traditions such as justice, peace and salvation, without resorting to name-calling and defamation of character,” said Braxton. “When we defame people, even supposedly in the name of God, the best elements of our religious traditions are deformed, and we devalue the irrepressible image of God inscribed in every person,” he said.
The chapter’s concluding verse 21, however, provides rehabilitation as it resounds with the inclusive nature of God’s grace.
“Even as the Christian Bible emphasizes the importance of Jesus, it celebrates the necessity of inclusion,” said Braxton. “In the word ‘all,’ we are empowered to call sister and brother anyone who is hospitable to the sacred spirit of creativity moving through the cosmos to unite us.”
Sponsored by the Samford religion department, the annual Howard L. and Martha H. Holley Lectures: New Testament Voices for a Contemporary World, honor university professor and retired Samford provost Dr. William E. Hull.
Braxton gave another lecture at Samford and one at Birmingham’s Sixth Avenue Baptist Church on the general theme, “The Beloved Community in a Pluralistic World” as part of the lectureship series.